Is smart advertising becoming too smart for its own good?

When we buy things online, we tend to rely a lot on the information we find on the internet. And when more people buy more things online, influencing that information will make more business sense to more companies.

Artificial intelligence in advertising shaping consumer experiences.

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

After my son had gone through a series of cheap earbuds bought directly on AliExpress that had all broken, I decided it was time to get him a higher quality pair for a change.

Naturally, we would buy them online. Since we had never seen any of the earphones we were considering in physical form, we tried to figure out everything from how they would fit to how they would sound, and soon realized that much of the available information was biased.

Obviously, online reviews contain bias. The reviewer’s previous experiences and personality influences the outcome, and the context that a review is published in has impact, such as a sponsored publication containing bias in favor of sponsors.

But on the internet, there are many other ways to influence consumers. For starters, just like with fake news, there are lots of bots out there that are spamming review sites.

We found a pair of earphones called Treblab X2 that looked really nice, and they were quite reasonably priced. Too good to be true? Maybe. A quick Fakespot analysis on indicated that more than a third of the reviews for this particular product might be fake. At first, I didn’t take the indication very seriously.

But then we dug deeper into the findings and realized that the most positive reviewers were called ‘Alina’, ‘Arina’ and ‘Yelena’, and that what they had in common was “Correlation with other fake reviewers' profile data and language.”

Identifying fake reviews in smart advertising.

So that was settled then. Bots.

But the number of reviews was low, so I checked with where there were roughly ten times as many. Unfortunately, with 41 percent low-quality reviews the bot storm turned out to be 10 times as strong as well, and a 4-star rating on Amazon was adjusted to a 2-star rating on Fakespot.

We ended up going with a better-known brand instead and bought a pair of Shures. But of all brands, why that particular one?
Now, by this point I am starting to get slightly paranoid, and I no longer know why. True, we read reviews from reasonably trusted sources like Techradar and What Hi-Fi, but I also have a feeling that there was something else happening.

Artificial intelligence enters the advertising arena

Like I said, it is probably just me being paranoid. Yet, Google recently launched their Auto Ads system that uses artificial intelligence to not only select the ads that you see but also to place them in front of you in the most influential way. It seems to be working, as a beta test of the system allegedly gave publishers more than 10 percent extra revenue.

According to our research at Ericsson ConsumerLab, consumers certainly believe AI will be used to manipulate them in this way. For this reason, one of our 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 is called Intelligent ads. It turns out that a full 42 percent think companies will use AI to make intelligent advertising that knows exactly how to persuade them to buy things.

How are we as consumers going to protect ourselves from such influence?

One idea is for consumers to also employ AI as a countermeasure. For example, our report shows that 57 percent of those who already use intelligent voice assistants would like an AI solution to also help them with their everyday shopping. But given that many already use intelligent voice assistants that have been developed by an advertising company or retailer, that might be a bit like jumping out of the proverbial frying pan into the fire.

Technology pervading advertising doesn’t stop with AI though. In fact, more than half of AR or VR users think that ads will become so realistic they will eventually replace the products themselves!

A reaction to this could be to avoid buying new technologies that come with built-in behavioral tracking, like AR and VR. But that is not going to be easy, as even printed stuff like a Toyota ad can contain sensors and monitor your heartbeat!

To what degree will we let increasingly smart advertising influence us? I think this is something that seriously needs to be debated. Do you agree?

Find out more insights from Ericsson ConsumerLab’s 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 here, and let us know about your experiences with smart advertising in online shopping.

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